Sheriff's Office $3.1 million over budget

March 22, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

A report by the county auditor-controller shows county jail operations and the Sheriff-Coroner's Office are $3.1 million over budget nine months into the fiscal year.

Jail operations are $2.2 million over budget because money that pays for federal inmates hasn't been coming in and the Sheriff-Coroner's Office is $905,554 over budget due to a high number of employees retiring, county Sheriff Harold Carter said.

Sheriff's employee unions this year negotiated good salary increases and retirement benefits for employees. As a result, 11 people retired, Carter said.


Several hundred thousand dollars that was not anticipated had to be paid out of payroll. Overtime also is a part of the deficit but that was anticipated, he said. There are 16 payroll periods until the end of the fiscal year and he hopes to close the gap on the salary deficit by then.

But payroll is the lesser of Carter's budget problems.

The U.S. Marshal's Office has sent fewer federal inmates to the county jail and that's hurt the budget because the county gets paid for each federal inmate it houses, he said.

Every county in the state that houses federal inmates is losing money and Imperial County is losing $2.2 million, Carter said.

Kern County Assistant Sheriff Michael LaFave said Kern is having the same problem, and also is short on federal inmate revenue.

"Federal inmates bring in $11 million in revenue to Kern County each year," LaFave said, adding the numbers fluctuate every year.

The Imperial County jail had housed an average of 200 federal inmates a day but now is at about 100. The jail is at capacity with county inmates, he said.

The county earns $44.20 to $55.58 a day for federal inmates, depending on where they are housed, Carter said.

If the jail housed 200 federal inmates at $55.58 a day, the county would earn just over $4 million a year.

Carter said federal inmate numbers have been down since Sept. 11, but he thinks two new private jails in San Diego have also had an impact on the lower number of federal inmates sent to Imperial County.

The new jails are absorbing the overflow the county was getting. It's easier to keep inmates in jail in San Diego, where the federal courthouse is, instead of transporting them to Imperial County, Carter said.

LaFave said the U.S. Marshal's Service in Kern County contracts with a new 2,400-bed private jail in California City.

He stopped short of saying the private jail is having an impact on federal inmate numbers in Kern County.

"I'm not sure of a reason. We're just being told the need for federal beds is down all over the country," he said.

Carter said the Imperial County jail does not earn much money anywhere else.

"We house state prisoners, mostly parolees that are arrested here, and we get some money from license fees and grants," he said.

Carter said he thinks Imperial County has come to rely on federal inmate revenue but a law enforcement agency can't be based on how much money is earned. It must he based on need, he said.

He's not sure where the county is going to get the money to make up the difference in the budget, but Carter said the county has a responsibility to keep the county jail open.

The state is projecting a 16 percent shortfall in its budget next year but that could change in May when the state revises its income projections, Carter said.

"We'll do cost control on everything we can. Then it may come down to the county digging into their pockets for more money," he said.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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